Lisa Bartlett hopes to follow in the steps of a former colleague on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Rep. Michelle Steel, and flip a House seat by a Democratic incumbent in the traditionally Republican county.
With the contours of California's 52 House districts recently formalized by the state's independent commission, Bartlett announced her candidacy this week. Bartlett is running for a coastal seat in the 49th Congressional District in southern Orange County and northern San Diego County held by Democratic Rep. Mike Levin.
A district covering much of the same territory was held by GOP Rep. Darrell Issa from 2001-2019. Levin won the open seat in 2018, and Issa, out of office for two years, has since gone to represent a different House district based entirely in San Diego County.
The 49th District reflects the changing political nature of Orange County, just south of Los Angeles. It was long known as one of the nation's most conservative areas, but waves of movement into the county have changed its demographic complexion. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried Orange County, making her the first Democratic presidential nominee to do so since 1936. And in the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump there 53% to 44%.
The party registration in the new 49th District is now 35.7% Democratic, 33.8% Republican, and 28.5% with no party preference. But Republicans are hardly down-and-out in Orange County. Steel in 2018, then on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, beat freshman Democratic Rep. Harvey Rouda in a district held for 30 years by Republican Dana Rohrabacher. Another current House Republican member, Rep. Young Kim, also beat a Democratic incumbent in 2018.
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In the 49th District, Bartlett is counting on backlash toward Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-era policies to push her across the finish line. Levin, who had a career in the green energy sector before joining Congress, has voted for Biden’s policies consistently.
“At a time when families are struggling to pay for gas, put food on the table, and deal with the cost of inflation, Mike Levin is literally cheering on trillions of dollars in government spending, much of which is for pet projects," Bartlett said in a press release. “Never in my lifetime can I remember a point where Congress was this far out of touch with the everyday experience of working-class Americans and families. Much like California, our country is headed in the wrong direction.”
Bartlett said her campaign would focus on the economy and public safety, among other issues. She opposes vaccine mandates and is critical of lockdowns instituted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A big point in Barlett's favor is her high name recognition. She was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2014, after eight years on the Dana Point City Council, including a stint as mayor.
Barlett had campaigned for a state Senate seat, but redistricting placed her house outside the newly drawn boundaries. So, she turned her focus toward a run for Congress, the Orange County Register reported.
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However, Barlett isn't the only Republican seeking the 49th Congressional District. And under California's "top two" election system, the candidate pair each earning the highest amount of votes in the June 7 primary will face off again in the November general election. That effectively means that in the split partisan district, Levin will run against a single Republican opponent in 10 months.
Levin in 2020 beat Republican challenger Brian Maryott 53.1% to 46.9%, under the old district lines. Maryott, a San Juan Capistrano councilman, said he plans to run for the 49th Congressional District seat. Marine Corps veteran Christopher Rodriguez, an Oceanside city councilman, is also running as a Republican.